How are you? The opener. The ice breaker. The question to which our reply is typically a lie. For years that question caused my brain to go into overdrive as I began to overthink; do they really want to know how I am? Should I tell the truth? Will I just be a burden if I tell them? As time has gone on I’ve developed a very robotic system of replying to that question. My replies now consist of 'I’m fine' or 'I’m doing alright'. Now, sometimes this is the truth. But, on many occasions, these responses couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not that I want to lie. In fact, I hate it. But, as many will understand, anxiety doesn’t care what I like or dislike. It just chips away until it becomes a rather permanent feature.
Anxiety is a term we use quite often. But, what does it mean? Well, for me anxiety is what strips my confidence, it’s what puts me in a state of panic, and it’s what keeps me up at night overthinking. It takes away your freedom to answer simple questions with simple responses. It forces us to analyse everything people do. It freaks out when it notices a slight change in behaviour from a friend. It takes small arguments and turns them into issues that dominate your entire train of thought. These issues then become your reason for not eating, for spending the entire day in your room, and the reason for you to watch your entire thought process implode inside your head as you can’t keep up with the overthinking.
For me, I sat up and took notice when I had my first panic attack, this came after completing my AS exams. You’d think I’d be relieved rather than panicked! However, with work experience just a few days away I began to feel this immense pressure in my chest. I started to freak out about what it was which lead to my breathing become shallower and substantially quicker. I panicked. I freaked out. I didn’t know what to do. I was alone. Or so I thought. I’ve been lucky that with almost every panic attack I’ve taken, I’ve had a friend nearby or on the other side of the phone. This first one made me worry but once it passed, I decided to forget about it and make up a reason in my head about why it meant nothing.
Now, at the time ignoring it seemed the best way. It was simple. However, as I learned rather quickly, that was not the answer. My fear allowed the anxiety to have free reign of my mind, to roam about and cause havoc everywhere it went. As it grew, I reached many breaking points. I had many occasions where I just wanted to lie in bed and not go to school or go to my youth group or see my friends. When you have anxious thoughts that prevent you from rationalising you tend to become more introverted. In my head, I didn’t want to ‘burden’ people with what was happening inside of me. I didn’t want to be that person that answered the question truthfully or asked for help. I feared being perceived as weak. I feared others finding out. I feared losing friends. It was these fears which caused me to stop being open. I stopped telling my friends what was happening and when I did it was maybe half the story or just a fragment.
What became clear to me was the main symptom of my anxiety was my increasing lack of trust. The hardest thing I’ve had to do is ask my friends the question; have I done something wrong? Or, are you annoyed at me? Now, in these situations, if you were thinking rationally you would notice that it was nothing I did to warrant these questions. It was that these people had things going on in their lives that my brain took as a change in behaviour towards me. Which then caused me to overthink. Instead of studying or writing or hanging out with friends, I was overthinking about nothing.
However, for some reason despite these thoughts and the constant itch of anxiety in my head, I managed to continue going to school, going to youth groups, and hanging out with my friends. It turned out that my biggest support group was my family, friends, teachers, and youth leaders. It started to become obvious over time that hiding what I was feeling was not an option if I wanted to be healthy; mentally, physically, and socially. It is not easy to just open up to people. Anxiety doesn’t want you to do that. If you do, there becomes a small chance that your mind becomes stronger. There becomes a chance that you no longer require anxiety to stick around. This does not happen immediately. But rather it takes place over time. Every time you open up. Every time you answer that question truthfully. Every time you rationalise. Every time you go to school, youth groups, and hang out with friends. Every time you ignore the urge of wanting to stay at home locked in your room it becomes smaller. Each battle comes and goes as you learn to begin fighting back. I try to fight each battle. I lose some but I win many.
What was the purpose of writing this article? Well, besides the fact I’m locked at home isolating, I decided now more than ever it was important. In these times of having so little to do it gives room for anxiety to grow. It allows for a relapse back into the way of panic attacks, overthinking, and losing trust. Boredom allows anxiety a free place to wander and we have all said at least once over the past few months that we are bored. For me, it was time to put my thoughts and feelings into a way I can articulate myself. This is as much a therapeutic piece for me as it is an ordinary article for you. But, if one person can read this and relate then I have a message. The war continues and usually, there doesn’t appear to be an end. However, with each battle, you become closer and closer to a win. Don’t think this is it for the rest of your life as it's not. You will grow stronger. We will grow stronger together.
Carter Wickham is a 19 year old student originally from Canada.